July 8th, 2011

Digital Storytelling Can Help Boost Student Learning

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Storytelling is the oldest form of education. The cave dwellers first taught their children lessons through stories. The Greeks picked up on the tradition by teaching morality through the myths.

Stories capture our imagination by reaching us on an emotional level. Mere facts out of context are hard to remember. Memory experts learn long stings of random numbers by creating a story around them (the first three digits are his mother’s birthday, the second three are the year of his first love, etc). Evolution has probably tuned our brains to remembering stories, rather than facts.

Teaching with Technology column

Unfortunately, education has forgotten about the power of storytelling in favor of straightforward transmission of the desired information. This method flies in the face of everything we know about learning. Without context, retention is low. Even the cave dwellers understood this, so why don’t we?

Digital storytelling returns us to the roots of education. Today, software that’s free and easy to learn allows students to develop stories that combine images, video, voice, and text. Having students create four to six minute multimedia videos forces them to reflect on what they’re learning and put it into a coherent narrative for others to understand as well. The work engages students in the higher order processes such as synthesis, analysis, and evaluation.

A research project by John Sandars and Gareth Frith at the University of Leeds compared the results of digital storytelling assignments in four very different types of classes—theater, medicine, education, and dietetics. The results were encouraging. Students felt that the projects allowed them to express “more obscure ideas that could be better understood when accompanied by image/sound.” One interesting example was a medical student who included in his story “a picture of a brick wall because I felt the patient had just put up a brick wall.” The student’s tutors also saw the value of digital storytelling by reporting that “the students involved in digital storytelling demonstrated much deeper reflection.”

As usual, I welcome your comments, criticisms, and cries of outrage in the comments section of this blog.

Resources
DigiTales: An excellent website on digital storytelling. Includes ideas, examples, and scoring guides.

Digital Storytelling Tools for Teachers, Silvia Tolisano. A 120 page book that can be downloaded for free, or purchased in the print version.

Stories for Change: A wonderful repository of digital stories.

A digital story I created about Buddy the bus driver.

Learn more about how to incorporate digital storytelling in your teaching, as well as other teaching tools techniques, with a copy of the online seminar How to Engage Students with Interactive Online Lectures